Live the Queen
local club QE2 lives again—if only for a couple of nights
was the club in the White Tower burger stand, the club that
brought Living Colour, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More,
and Marilyn Manson just before they broke into arena-sized
audiences. It was where spoken-word provocateurs Henry Rollins
and Lydia Lunch appeared on the same bill. It was an incubator
for seminal experimental 1990s bands such as Cop Shoot Cop
and Alice Donut, and a launch pad for local bands who went
on to major-label contracts including Clay People and Stigmata.
Allen Ginsberg read there, Sonic Youth amazed there, Les
Miserables was performed there, and thousands of patrons
were influenced by its creative attitude. It was the QE2,
the Albany nightclub that was as legendary in the region as
CBGB’s or Studio 54 were in New York City—and it was a little
of both: Celebrity customers included Robin Zander of Cheap
Trick, Robert Plant, and Metallica. And it accomplished all
this with a maximum (legal) occupancy of a mere 175 and (for
most of its run) only one owner-promoter.
It was also the place with a gigantic bat skeleton hanging
over the front bar and hand-painted murals on the back wall.
“I was an artist, so I wanted a place where artists could
hang their work on the walls, because that’s how I got started,”
says QE2 owner-promoter Charlene Shortsleeve.
After several years booking bands for Club 288 on Lark Street,
Shortsleeve and her husband, Dave Shortsleeve, started looking
for a club of their own. “I wanted it to be a theatrical,
arts-center kind of place,” says Charlene. In 1985, when they
were told the defunct White Tower on Central Avenue was available,
and that it had a vacant lot behind it for expansion, the
Shortsleeves knew they had their location. “I loved the building,
I thought it would make a cool entrance for a nightclub,”
says Charlene. She also loved the distinctive White Tower
light-up sign outside. “I wanted a big sign,” she says. “And
I wanted a name that could be big on it, just two or three
letters and maybe a number, and I love the Sex Pistols, and
the queen [of England], so I thought, QE2, from ‘God save
the Queen.’ ”
She adds with a laugh, “Then it became ‘God save the queen
of clubs,’ because we needed all the help we could get.”
The expansion took over a year, during which time the couple
depleted their savings and maxed out their credit cards. A
month after opening, the club got an unexpected boost of publicity
from, of all places, the QE2—as in the QE2 luxury liner. Cunard
Cruise Lines sent a threatening letter to the club to cease
and desist in using the QE2 name. Charlene put the letter
in the club’s wraparound streetside window, where it was spotted
by a reporter from the Associated Press, who wrote a story
about the corporation wrangling over rights with a little
club. The story was picked up by the New York Post
and other publications, and even earned a spot on Radio London.
“I got calls all summer,” says Charlene.
Even so, the first year was exhausting. “We were both working
20 hours a day, seven days a week,” Charlene recalls. “Live
music is so expensive, you have to work your butt off just
to break even. The couple divorced around the time the club
reached its height of popularity.
Of the halcyon, 1990s years, Charlene says, “Everything was
working together,” mentioning support from Buzzz, Metroland,
Real George’s Backroom, WEQX, and all the indie labels.
But there were pressures, too: “Finding the time to do all
the things that needed to be done,” she says. “Bands in and
out, 200 phone calls a day, 30, 40 press kits a day, all the
advertising, giving bands directions on the phone . . .”
What she most enjoyed, she says, was the artistic stimulation.
“It was awesome being in a big family of artists, and just
being where all the music and poetry was happening,” she enthuses.
“That’s why I called it Artists for Artists. Hanging out with
them in the dressing room until the sun came up, it was so
usually didn’t know about the bands I was going to see, I
just went there all the time,” says sculptor Jeff Brower.
“I was fascinated by the counterculture of it, the creativity
of it, the insanity of it. With so many bands coming through
that club, and so many artists coming to it, you got exposed
to a tremendous amount of diversity.” He adds: “People remember
the famous bands, but it’s the more obscure ones that stick
in my mind, like Caterwaul, a small band with a fabulous female
vocalist. And the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and the
Genitorturers, bands where you could scarcely believe what
you were seeing.”
Brower was a regular at the club from its opening until its
closing in January 2000, and his Halloween-inspired creations—a
werewolf that menaced from the ceiling, a vampire gent usually
placed by the DJ booth, and the batwing skeleton—were integral
to the club’s décor. “What was also important was that I met
a younger generation of artists,” he adds. “For example, the
Upstate Artists Guild took me seriously because of seeing
my sculptures in the QE2.”
Tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday, Jan. 15-16, the Fuze Box (at
the former QE2 location) will host Vamp Remembers the QE2.
The homage was planned by Nicole Plummer, who works at the
Fuze Box as DJ Auryn. “I was DJing at this place that used
to be legendary, and I wanted to know more about it,” she
says. “So I Googled it, and saw pictures of this really wild
atmosphere, and I wanted to experience it.”
It was a casual conversation with Brower, however, in which
she learned that he was the creature sculptor, and a friend
of Charlene’s, that made the event possible. The sculptures
will be exhibited, and Charlene is selecting the music and
providing posters, statuary, and other “relics.”
want to get it as original as possible,” Plummer says. “People
still talk about the QE2, but the younger customers don’t
know much about it and I want for them to experience it, too.
This will be a one-of-a-kind event, she adds, “and I’m hoping
for a lot of mingling.”
Asked how she feels about the event being held on the 10-year
anniversary of the club’s closing, Charlene replies, “I feel
Remembers the QE2 will be held at the Fuze Box, 12 Central
Ave., Albany, on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 15 and 16, 10 PM
to 4 AM. Admission is $5.